The Arizona Coyotes will have seven free agents at the close of this suspended season. There will be four restricted free agents and three unrestricted free agents. The projected cap space based on an $84 million cap limit (which may change downward) shows that they would have about $4 million of cap space.
This means some players will not be signed or perhaps traded. Here is a rundown of each free agent and the prospects of retaining them on the roster.
Arizona Coyotes Salary Cap Challenges
The 34-year-old 6′-3″, 210-pound centre was obtained from the Colorado Avalanche in June of last year. The Coyotes gave up Kevin Connauton and received the Av’s third-round pick in this year’s draft. This trade favoured Arizona with Connauton only playing in four games in Colorado. He participated in 38 games with 27 points for the Av’s AHL team and is no longer on their active roster.
Soderberg’s $4.75 million contract expires after this season and he will be an unrestricted free agent. While his play is actually quite adequate with 17 goals, 18 assists in 70 games, he may not be back. His age and contract may prohibit him from being in a Coyotes’ uniform next season. He has shown some well-needed grit in front of the net, an attribute the team really needs to have more players exhibit. He deflects shots, screens the goalie with his huge frame and is an all-around valuable player.
Prediction: He won’t be re-signed by the team saving them $4.75 million to be used for the “re-sign Taylor Hall” fund.
The 5′-9″, 173-pound centre has had a terrible year. He’s just tallied five goals, 17 assists in 68 contests. That puts into question as to whether the team keeps him or not. The numbers he gathered last season (16-G, 23-A) were more along the lines of what the team expected from him. He came over in the July 2018 deal where the Coyotes took over Marian Hossa‘s contract and acquired defenceman, Jordan Oesterle.
His $1.5 million contract expires after this season and he will be a restricted free agent. He will be given a qualifying offer and whether he decides to take it or not will determine his status on the team.
This one could go either way. If they lose Soderberg, they will be shorthanded at the centre position. Vinnie plays hard but just didn’t have it this season. They may make a qualifying offer to keep him and if he refuses his salary will also go towards re-signing Hall.
Prediction: The team will offer him a qualifying offer of $1.75 million per year for two years and he will accept it.
The crafty 35-year-old who stands 6′-0″, 190 pounds has had an average year with six goals, five assists in 59 games. He is invaluable on the penalty kill and in the faceoff circle where he wins 54 percent of the draws. Unfortunately, this season he has not displayed good puck possession skills (nor has the entire team) with just 42 percent Corsi For and a Relative Corsi of -7.7.
His $1.25 million contract was mostly awarded due to his uncommon collection of 19 goals in the first year of his deal. He’s been hurt (which happens to older players) more than usual and it seems his time in the desert has come to an end. He will be missed, but again another $1.25 million towards keeping Hall.
This may increase the already weak position of centre on the team. Replacements will be in order. One possibility may be Jan Jenik who was having a terrific season with Hamilton in the OHL before getting hurt. He could be ready for next season if he recovers quickly or the start of the season is delayed. He had 22 goals, 34 assists in just 27 games. That’s the kind of production the Coyotes could really use at the center ice position.
Prediction: Richardson will not be re-signed and will join the free agency market.
The 25-year-old 6′-2″, 201-pound defenceman has played reasonably well. He is a stay-at-home D-man. Lyubushkin maintains excellent possession stats with 50.4 Corsi For and a Relative Corsi of 1.9. He is not afraid to use his body and can really put the fear in the eyes of opposing players when he lines them up for a hit.
His value lies in his physical style of play and he is a right-hand shot. He has yet to score a goal in the NHL. The Russian has collected four assists each of the last two seasons in Arizona.
He earns a very reasonable contract set at $874,125. His improved play deserves him a roster spot. It’s good to have a blueliner who knows the system and can be there as needed when injuries pop up. Retaining him would be a good choice. They need to determine what happens to Hinostroza first to see if they have money to offer him. He should be getting in the range of a $1 million contract if he stays.
Prediction: Lyubushkin’s improved play will be rewarded with another one-year deal for $1 million.
The soon to be 23-year-old right-winger who stands 6′-2″, 214 pounds has not been doing that well this season. He and Michael Grabner have been repeated healthy scratches and the future of Fischer is in question. While his size would be a reason to keep him, he just hasn’t developed into a forward with scoring capabilities. His other statistics don’t fare too well either. He has just 17 goals, 10 assists in 127 games in Arizona. While being a physical presence with 382 hits to his credit, his game is fairly one-dimensional. He’s not a good possession player and is on for far more goals against than for.
This is his last year of the entry-level contract paying him $821,666, making him an RFA. With just 0.13 points per game, defencemen like Jakob Chrychun can score 0.41 points per game. Turning Fischer into a player not contributing to his team’s success.
Prediction: Even though the team may feel he has potential, that is all he’s shown in his three-year stint in Arizona. Not even sure he will be given a qualifying offer, making him a free agent to go where he pleases. Another $821,666 of cap space saved.
He may be the future in net for the Coyotes. Hill, who will be 24-years-old in May stands tall at 6′-6″, 202 pounds. He has appeared in 30 games with 24 starts. When Raanta was hurt he started 13 games to give Kuemper a breather. When both Raanta and Kuemper were hurt simultaneously this suspended season, he stepped up to start. He has a respectable 10-12-3 record with a .918 save percentage and a 2.81 goals-against-average.
It would seem if the team is trying to save cap dollars to re-sign Taylor Hall, it may be a good time to consider trading Raanta. Hill can be a very suitable backup goalie and has a contract of $708,750. He should, of course, be granted a qualifying offer in the $1-1.2 million range.
At this point, due to Raanta’s unreliability to stay healthy, it’s time to get something for him and use his salary towards getting Hall inked.
The 6′-1″, 205-pound left-wing was acquired from the New Jersey Devils on December 16, 2019, with the team giving the Devils three prospects and two draft picks. While it may seem like the Coyotes gave up a lot to get Hall, they have every intention of re-signing him. Finding the cap space to do it may be an issue, but Chayka has pulled rabbits out of his hat before.
Hall is the type of player this team desperately needs to become a playoff team. He has demonstrated his worth with 16 goals, 36 assists in 65 games. While with Arizona, he has 10 goals, 17 assists in 35 games. He makes things happen with his speed and good two-way play. Is he worth $8-9 million a year on a long-term eight-year deal? We’ll see. It would certainly help if the Coyotes, by some magical means, qualify for the playoffs. That is if they occur this season at all. Hall has stated that he just wants to concentrate on this season if there is one remaining.
Even with some of the suggestions above, it won’t be easy getting enough cap space together to re-sign Hall. It can be done, but the roster would need to be adjusted. Perhaps general manager/President of hockey operations John Chayka will look at players like Oliver Ekman-Larsson, Phil Kessel, Derek Stepan, and Alex Goligoski to see what kind of roster adjustments he can make. Of that group, only Goligoski looks to have played decently of late.
It needs to be mentioned that the Arizona Coyotes will FINALLY rid themselves of a horrible contract for Mike Ribeiro whose $1.944 million contract will expire this season. Even with that relief, the team needs to do some creative financing to get the kind of money that Taylor Hall will demand.
The steps going forward for this team needs to be focused on performance. They absolutely must get to the postseason, and roster management will be vital to get there. Players who haven’t performed for the salary they’ve received need to be evaluated and taken into consideration. That may very well be in order for the front office also. If a head coach can no longer get results from players he wanted on the roster, perhaps it’s time to replace the coach. If a general manager can’t get the players to get the franchise successful and competitive, then maybe it’s time for him to step aside.
In the end, the Arizona Coyotes need some changes to be made. Mediocrity has raised its ugly head and results are not acceptable.